Baby #2 just turned 9 months old recently. It’s been amazing to think how quickly time has passed by in just a blink of the eye. As I thought about all the fun and not-so-fun moments from the past nine months, I was thinking about the first postpartum month and all the craziness associated with it.
In most Asian cultures, the first postpartum month is a time of confinement for the new mother. In Chinese, the literal translation for this period is the “Sitting Month”. During these 30 to 40 days, the new mother is prohibited from doing certain things so that all she has to concentrate on is healing/resting/making breastmilk. Various female relatives, typically the mother’s mother or the mother-in-law, will dedicate time to pamper the new mother. The general thought is that straying from the rules of the Sitting Month will result in future aches/pains/weakening of the body. There are many rules associated with this month, mainly focusing on eating certain foods to increase breastmilk production and avoiding exposure to coldness. As a result, it is not unusual for the new mother to be drinking hot soups at least 3-6x per day in the middle of August. Some of the classic confinement period dishes include: sesame oil chicken, pig-trotters, fish-head, pig-kidney soup, and red date/longan tea. There are also some basic rules such as avoiding any exposure to “cold” things, which means no showers/washing hair, no air-conditioning/fans, no cold drinks (including ice water) and obviously physically avoiding going outside for the ENTIRE month.
When I talk with my Chinese American girlfriends who have gone through the Sitting Month confinement period, it is akin to comparing war stories. Someone’s mother-in-law insisted on turning off all the AC (in 90+degree weather), closed all the windows, and at the same time insisted on butchering an entire fish to serve for fish head soup (can you imagine the smell in that heat?!). Another friend had her husband sneak glasses of ice water behind her grandmother’s back. Or friends who missed their newborn’s doctors’ appointments because of not being able to leave the house. Most often, I’ve heard of friends who longingly complain that forbidden snacks that their non-Asian friends bring for them in celebration go to waste because they are forced to stick to the traditional confinement period diet while the rest of the family enjoys “normal food”.
As for myself, I too had a very hard time following the “rules” during my Sitting Month. Both of my children were born at the end of the summer, when it was about 90-100 degrees outside so imagine my delight when I was told it was a bad idea for the air-conditioning to be on or for me to sit near an open window. I also am not a big fan of herbal soups or pork-product so mealtimes were often difficult for me, especially when I would crave things like sushi or salads (GASP! cold raw food!). The worse part was probably the cabin-fever/stir-craziness of being stuck inside all day. One day, when my daughter was 3 weeks old, my in-laws sheepishly told me that they had made plans with some friends for lunch and unfortunately wouldn’t be able to make me fresh traditional sesame-oil-chicken soup for lunch that day and would I mind reheating some of the (delicious) stuff that they had previously prepared. Of course, I had no problem with this and in fact, secretly was hoping that they would spend more time out with their friends. The moment I heard their car pull out of the driveway, I showered/got dressed, bundled up my little baby newborn, called my husband and had him sneak me out of the house to the mall. Ahhh…how wonderful to be able to finally leave the house! How ironic to think that at the age of 30-something, that I would still derive such glee from sneaking out the mall behind my parents’ back! I felt like such a rebel!
In contrast, one of my cousins, who is much more traditionally Taiwanese than I am, made a point that gave me some pause. She asked me, “Why won’t you just rest and stay at home and eat the foods that they prepare for you? It’s an entire month of being pampered, so why don’t you just enjoy it instead of trying to fight it?” It’s interesting that there is this disconnect between how a traditional Asian woman views the month compared to an Asian American.
Despite all my tongue-in-cheek complaining, I know that the Sitting Month is an Asian tradition that I had to “endure and survive” through. I know that deep down in their hearts, my mother and in-laws had my best interest in their hearts in trying to let me rest and heal during the postpartum period. I just know that one day there’s probably going to be some Karma, not that I believe I will be stricken down with severe osteoarthritis because I washed my hair and snuck out to the mall that day, but more likely that one day I will perhaps end up with a Taiwanese Princess for a future daughter-in-law who demands that I pamper her with Pig Trotter’s Soup made from scratch.